One of the most confusing aspects of shopping for shower doors can be wrapping your head around the industry jargon. What exactly is a framed shower door? What makes shower doors semi-frameless? How is a shower enclosure “frameless” if there is metal channel around the perimeter?
Adding to the confusion is a lack of consistency within the industry itself. What one company considers frameless may be classified as semi-frameless by another company. Shower door manufacturers, retailers, and installers each have their own – often conflicting – definitions and terminology, making it difficult for customers to compare products or understand exactly what they’re purchasing.
While there isn’t perfect agreement about the boundaries between framed, semi-frameless, and frameless shower doors, there are a few general rules that help explain the major differences. And even though there are exceptions to these rules, we hope that the following information helps alleviate at least some of the confusion!
PROS: Cost, highly adjustable
CONS: Thin glass, aesthetics dominated by metal, difficult to repair, difficult to replace individual parts, minimal customization of glass and hardware
In the shower door industry, framing refers to the presence of metal on individual panels of glass, not whether or not there is metal on the outer perimeter of the shower enclosure as a whole. This, understandably, causes confusion among customers who aren’t familiar with the industry jargon.
In short, framed shower doors consist of glass panels that are individually framed in metal, sliding or swinging within additional metal wall jambs and channel to create a finished shower enclosure. In the first picture above, for instance, the glass door has metal attached to the glass, and this metal is hinged to a metal corner post that divides the door from the adjacent stationary panel.
The same is true of the bypass sliding shower door in the second picture above: two panels – each individually framed with anodized aluminum – slide between two metal wall jambs on roller wheels that lock into the metal header.
Framed shower doors are perfectly good products. If you purchase one from a reputable company and have it professionally installed, it should hold up for 10+ years. That being said, the glass is very thin, which makes framed shower doors feel a little flimsy in comparison to heavier glass shower doors, particularly frameless ones. Also, if individual parts need to be replaced, you need to source them from the original manufacturer, which makes repairing them more difficult compared to frameless shower door systems.
PROS: Somewhat customizable, less metal than framed shower doors, highly adjustable
CONS: Cost (not much less expensive than frameless shower doors), relatively thin glass, metal still dominates design, difficult to repair, difficult to replace individual parts
Semi-frameless shower doors can often be the most confusing segment of the shower door industry, simply because there is no standardized definition among manufacturers. Typically, semi-frameless shower doors combine framed stationary glass with partially framed doors. Or, in the case of single doors (as shown above in the first picture), a partially framed door is stabilized with metal framing on the hinge side and at the base, while the top of the door and the handle side have no metal physically attached to the glass.
In the second picture above, we have a great example of a bypass sliding shower door system that some people call semi-frameless and others call frameless. There are metal wall jambs, a metal track at the base, and a metal header atop the unit. However, the sliding panels are free-floating within this framing structure. These units used to be considered “frameless,” but now there are newer models in the sliding shower segments – ones with considerably less metal overall – most people call they sliding bypass systems “semi-frameless.”
In the third picture above, we see a semi-frameless shower door in the open position, showing that there is no metal attached to the handle side of the door, nor framing the top of the door. However, when the door is closed, this is not apparent since it strikes against a metal corner post.
Semi-frameless units are nice because the glass is thicker than it is in most framed shower enclosures. By using 1/4″ or 3/8″ glass, semi-frameless units have a sturdier feel. And since there is still plenty of metal associated with these units, there is good adjustability, especially compared to frameless shower units, which can only be installed with very precise measurements and out of plumb/level conditions.
Semi-frameless units are not much less expensive than fully frameless shower doors though, which makes purchasing them harder to justify. For just hundreds – not thousands – of dollars more, homeowners can upgrade to a fully frameless shower door that will look and function better over time.
PROS: Thick glass, minimal metal, easy to repair, easy to replace individual parts, easy to customize glass and hardware, very sturdy
CONS: Cost, minimal adjustability
Frameless shower doors are at the top of the pyramid in the good/better/best comparison between framed, semi-frameless, and frameless shower doors. Frameless shower enclosures use heavy 3/8″ or 1/2″ glass to make the units more sturdy, even without considerable metal support in the form of channel or header systems. That being said, frameless shower doors can have metal header support atop the units (as in the fourth picture above), which is why the terminology can be confusing. Even with a metal header, these systems are still “frameless” because there is no metal between the panels or doors to keep them secure. It is very low-profile metal channel at the base of the glass that performs this function.
Frameless systems like the one in the first picture above are what most people think of when they hear the word “frameless.” The neo angle in this picture has a 3/8″ door hinged off of 1/2″ stationary glass without metal header support at the top of the unit. By hinging off of heavy 1/2″ glass panels that are secured to the wall with subtle 2″x2″ square clamps, frameless shower doors are the best option for clients who insist on minimal metal parts and framing.
In the third picture above, we see a modern framing sliding system – the Serenity – which utilizes one stationary panel and one sliding panel to capture a very minimalist yet functional design. In the modern sliding product segment, manufacturers are starting to release systems where both panels slide without requiring additional, bulky metal. However, no single manufacturer has taken the lead in this segment quite yet, even though the Cambridge series by C.R. Laurence appears to be out to an early lead.
Frameless shower doors are easier to repair than framed or semi-frameless shower doors, simply because individual components are easy to source and switch out. The parts for framed and semi-frameless shower doors are usually proprietary, making it difficult to source replacement parts without knowing the original manufacturer. Tracking this information down can be difficult for homeowners, especially if these shower enclosures were installed by a previous owner.
Also, frameless shower doors are easy to customize in terms of glass types and hardware options. Framed and semi-frameless systems usually limit customers to just two glass types: clear or opaque. But there are many shower door glass options in the frameless market segment. It can almost be overwhelming! The same goes with shower door handle options, as well as knobs, towel bars, and robe hooks. Matching shower door hardware to existing bathroom fixtures is simply much easier with frameless shower door systems. The hardware can be used to customize and personalize your frameless shower door.
Hopefully this information has been helpful! As always, contact us with any questions that come up as you research and compare your shower door options before making a purchase. We’re the Experts, and we’re here to help!